It seems to be one of the GOP’s favorite “get the crowd excited” lines. “If elected President, I will abolish the Department of Education”. The approximately $70 billion annual department budget is the whipping boy for many but why?
First, let’s put the $70 billion into perspective. The nation (the 50 States and their local school districts) spend about $900 billion on K-12 education. (The US spends almost $900 billion on just Defense !) The K-12 spending translates into about $7,000 per student. Compared to the rest of the world, the US spends the most and the most per capita. Do you sense a pattern? Just like with health care delivery, the US spends the most but does not offer the best educational system in the world.
Add on to this, the approximate $28,000 per year per student for public universities and $41,000 for private ones, this adds up to a lot of money being spent on educations.
So why do many GOP candidates want to dismantle the Department of Education?
There are the usual suspects. Government gets in the way. Education is the provence of States. Department of Education is just wasteful spending. States don’t need Federal help. And so on.
The GOP may be on to something. The need, however, is not to abolish the Department of Education but to change its focus and increase its authority. The 50 States have not produced one clearly superior model acting independently. Let’s consider.
We need to educate Americans to do something. Most all place of education whether K-15 or university, public or private, would angrily claim they already provide proper education to anyone attending their institution. Unfortunately, the outcome evidence points otherwise. Millions graduate each year and cannot find employment or too many can only find work for which they are over qualified. This translates into income that will not pay back the cost to educate or provide a route to the American dream. A losing proposition.
The currently K-12 under educated and under skilled. High school drop out rates in economically challenged areas currently can reach 50%. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Without a high school degree (and a good education to go with it), how can a person navigate the modern world?
The “trade-less” high school graduate. With no particular skill, a person with a high school degree is destined to low wage employment.
The college drop out. This class of misguided or underachievers selected the wrong school or the wrong study direction or both. Their futures could be brighter were there affordable night schools or other full time institutions which could be develop their talents. (To be sure Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are exceptions.)
The college graduate with a useless degree. This category includes graduates who truly have not learned much or others who have degrees that are not in demand in the economy. While learning to think and learning new skills is commendable, being able to support oneself is really necessary.
I doubt that Democrats have much of a better idea but they are not rallying to eliminate the Department of Education. We need to hear a rally for raising the education output for everyone from the money we spend already on education.
The GOP would do everyone a favor that in place of trashing education or making equally insufficient recommendations like vouchers, they would propose a comprehensive plan that could stand on its own. Once that plan were accepted, then the redundancy of a Department of Education could be dealt with.
Getting smart in 2012 can’t come soon enough.